The Climate Pitfalls of Denmark’s Electric Car Parking Perk

(Charles Komanoff is a frequent contributor to NYC Streetsblog on energy policy, carbon taxes and transportation reform.  For a complete bio, click here.)

Only two cities of more than a million people are known to
have a bicycling mode-share over 30 percent: Amsterdam
and Copenhagen. As Rutgers
urban expert John
Pucher has
, cycling’s vibrantly high percentage of urban trips throughout Denmark,
the Netherlands
and Germany was
not the product of amorphous cultural factors. Rather, it came about through public
policies that not only made cycling safe and convenient but also made driving costly
and cumbersome.

parking for electric cars would go against the grain of longstanding
policies, like the decision to pedestrianize the Strøget, shown here in
1935, when private cars were still allowed. Photo: Copenhagenet.

it was disconcerting to learn that one of these measures — limiting
the supply and raising the price of central-city car parking — is
about to be compromised in Copenhagen. And the announcement could not
be more
ill-timed, with the Danish capital set to host the U.N.
Climate Change Conference
starting Monday.

The government of Denmark
this week unveiled a package of incentives to jump-start the sale and use of
electric cars. As the New
York Times reported
on Wednesday, each new electric car comes not just with
a per-purchase subsidy of $40,000, but with this stunning perk: free parking in downtown Copenhagen.

Free parking, as UCLA Professor Don Shoup has taught us, comes with a high cost:
greater car use. The more valuable and pricey the parking space, the greater the
inducement to drive when it is given away. In the case of downtown Copenhagen,
where parking probably goes for the U.S.
equivalent of $25 a day, the inducement will be powerful indeed.

Consider a resident of metropolitan Copenhagen
headed downtown from, say, 10 miles away. Even with petrol taxed to a price of $8
a gallon, the fuel cost of the 20-mile round-trip in a 32 mpg car is just five
bucks. That’s pocket change next to the $25 parking cost. But make parking
free, and the $30 car trip can now be made for $5. Econometric models using
suggest that the number of trips will roughly triple as a result — at least until the
resulting traffic chokes off some of the increase.

Granted, the parking subsidy applies only to electric cars,
so for a while the surge might remain a trickle. But once put in place,
subsidies are hard to withdraw. Eventually, the increase in use of electric cars
for commuting and other trips into the heart of Copenhagen will take mode share
from cycling, walking and transit — not just directly due to the subsidy for
driving, but indirectly because those "green modes" will have become less
efficient, less safe, and less valued by society.

But perhaps the most jarring aspect of the new policy is the
way the national government is cloaking it in green.

As the Times reported:

"We want to be a test and laboratory country for electric
cars, hybrid cars and other new technology," said Lars Barfoed, the Danish
minister of transport. "And as host of the climate change conference, that’s
made us feel responsible and want to show the world we can do something."

"Doing something" apparently refers to supplying the battery-charging
stations with kilowatts generated by wind turbines, which now account for a
world-beating 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. While effective use of wind power
is a big carbon plus, subsidizing electric car use could easily end as a
net negative if it pushes the travel mix to more
car use and undermines Copenhagen’s
urban vitality.

and Copenhagen are hardly alone in
being blinded by alternate-fuel vehicles’ green halo.
The 2007 Bloomberg
congestion pricing plan
specified a two-thirds discount for "clean-fuel"
trucks, despite the dwindling air quality advantage as cleaner diesel
fuels and engines are phased in anyway, and in seeming denial of the additional
traffic congestion (as well as reduced toll revenues to support transit).

The veteran energy and transportation specialist Lee
Schipper wrote
in a related context:

Creating a zero-carbon car for China
tomorrow won’t solve the much bigger problems of urban congestion, traffic
fatalities and the paving over of once-beautiful cities to make room for more
cars. The discussions should back up. Energy is only a means to an end. What
are the ends, urban access and mobility, or cars for a small minority?

Wise words for Danes and Americans alike.

  • DJB

    It just goes to show that not all electric car subsidies have the same effects. It matters whether you choose to subsidize parking, the charging infrastructure or the purchase of the car itself.

    It can be perfectly reasonable to jack up parking and gasoline costs at the same that you subsidize charging infrastructure and electric car / plug-in hybrid purchase. That way you get less driving, and fewer gasoline cars. Once electric cars are cheap enough we can stop subsidizing them and really tax the bejesus out of gasoline.

    I don’t mind if people own cars to use occasionally or to carpool with (what is transit if not a public carpool?). I’d sure want a car to take me to the hospital if I were having a heart attack. Are we supposed to take women giving birth to the hospital on bikes and buses? C’mon . . . SOMETIMES you need to get there in the fastest way possible. When you do, I hope you’ll be driven by an electric car.

  • People can’t own cars and use them occasionally; once you’ve spent upwards of $20,000 on something, the incentive isn’t to let it sit in the garage and use it only occasionally, the incentive is to get your money’s worth and use it as much as possible.

    We need to stop using the “1% of the time I need a car, so I need a car 100% of the time” argument; it’s totally invalid. How about calling 911 when you’re having a heart attack or when your wife is pregnant (and she’ll most likely know when the baby is coming anyway, and be near a hospital, wont she?) And maybe if we stopped the massive subsidization of our marketing induced irrational obsession with cars, and put our money into things like health care, we’d expect care to come to us when we most need it, instead of the other way around.

  • David Galvan

    Agree with DJB. The free parking for electric cars is not a good idea for these cities in Denmark. Also not a good idea for L.A.. But that doesn’t mean all methods of encouraging people to switch to electric cars are bad.


    I think you’re overplaying the incentive of which you speak. I own a car. If it was convenient for me to use public transit to get to work every day, I would take public transit and let the car sit in the garage until I need it for something else. I wouldn’t say to myself: “Hey, it would be really convenient for me to get to work by public transit, but I already paid $20K for this car so I guess I have to use it.” That just doesn’t happen. People make everyday decisions based on minimizing the hassle and/or cost involved in their immediate situation, not because they feel they owe something to their possessions.

    As for your examples: Are you really advocating that all expectant mothers should be using the the Emergency Services system to get to the hospital? Even when it is not an emergency? Just so they can avoid having a car in the household? And not everyone can afford to re-locate to a hotel near the hospital for the couple weeks surrounding the expected delivery date. That in and of itself would be a hassle that a car would make unnecessary.

    I know what you’re getting at: Many people can get by without owning a car and using a carshare method instead. The simple fact is that most people see that as too inconvenient, and would rather just have their car available at their beck and call. Think about it: Say I want to go to Home Depot, 10 miles away. If I don’t own a car, that could be a 1hour+ trip via buses and I wouldn’t be able to carry the supplies I would be trying to get. With a car, I could do it in half the time plus be able to carry the cargo easily. But If I don’t own a car, I’d have to go through the hassle of renting one (find a rental agency, somehow get to their location, go through the payment/insurance hassle, get the key, and finally drive off, then have a similar hassle when you drop it back off), and pay extra to do so, so it would eliminate the time-saving reason to use a car in the first place.

  • Brent

    @ramonchu & @David Galvan:

    “If it was convenient for me to use public transit to get to work every day, I would take public transit and let the car sit in the garage until I need it for something else”

    This is my situation exactly. I moved to my apartment in 1996 specifically so I could walk to work. It wasn’t a “green” decision, it was about time: I hate wasting time in traffic. (In the years since, however, green has become more of a factor.) My car stays parked most days, but I take it out about twice per week for other journeys.

  • @Ramon – It sounds to me like you’ve described @David Galvan pretty well: it sounds like he paid a lot for a car and he doesn’t take transit to work every day.

    The overall article is pretty scary… ah, Copenhagen… don’t give away those parking spaces!

  • Erik G.

    Just FYI, the initial parts of Strøget that were made pedestrian only made the conversion in the early 60’s. So that photo is abit extreme given that it is before the automobile became the consumer accessory it did in the post WWII era.

    Here is a shot from the 1970’s of a portion that was pedestrianized later:

    (with a link to a more recent picture there)

  • Erik G.

    Here’s a link to the City of Copenhagen on-street parking zone map:

    and here are the rates:

    Given that the Bushpeso (US$) is trading at $1 to 5 Danish Kroner, between 8 am and 6pm it costs $5.50 per hour to park in the red zone, which is the city center. Donald Shoup would be happy!

    Attention LADOT!!

  • Bottom line. Electric cars preserve the autosprawl system. Sprawl means heating and cooling each building separately, paving large areas, burning coal instead of oil. More cars mean more energy wars. You don’t want that, do you? The best way to end the tyranny of waste is to end the private auto. You can get to the hospital in a public vehicle. Use the electric car subsidy money to make public transit free. This will lead to gradual change and re-balance the transport market somewhat.

  • David Galvan

    @ Joe Linton:

    In regards to your comment:

    “@Ramon – It sounds to me like you’ve described @David Galvan pretty well: it sounds like he paid a lot for a car and he doesn’t take transit to work every day.”

    How handy that someone can describe me “pretty well” with a short, pithy stereotype! Must be easy not having to actually think about a person’s situation, and dismiss their decisions as poor ones without knowing the whole story. Do you apply this methodology to everyone whose situation does not match your own?

    Did you not read my comment (#3)? I don’t take public transit to work every day because it would be inconvenient for me to do so. Not because I am trying to justify my car ownership. I took the bus most days to and from school for the 6 years I was in grad school and my car sat at home most weekdays; but when I got a job in a different location, at a time when my wife and I could not afford to move, taking public transit no longer made sense.

    I live in Sherman Oaks, work in Pasadena. Commuting by bike/bus would require 1 hr 30 minutes each way (I’ve timed it the 5 or so times I’ve done it, and that is about the average door-to-door.) Driving from home to work or vice versa takes me an average of 34 minutes. So, the cost in time is roughly 3 hours per day using public transit, and 1hr 8 minutes per day using my car. That’s 2 extra hours every day in which I am not working or spending time with my family.

    The monetary cost of these journeys is roughly the same in either mode:
    My car gets about 25 mpg on average: And my commute is about 20 miles each way. So 40 miles per day means I use roughly 1.6 gallons of gas per day. Average cost of gas around here is ~$3 per gallon, so I spend ~$4.80 per day to commute by car. (Yes, that is the real cost. I know that the cost of car ownership is more than the cost of gas: but If I commuted to work by bike/bus it’s not like I would sell my car. I would still use it for other reasons, so the other costs associated with car ownership would still be there if I didn’t drive to work.)

    Commuting by bike/bus costs me $2.20 per ride on the commuter express (ie: $4.40 per day) plus a $0.25 transfer to an MTA bus once I get to Pasadena (ie: $0.50 per day). That makes the commuting monetary cost of taking public transit $4.90 per day. If I were to buy a monthly pass, it would have to be EZ transit, and the cost would be $106 per month since it would be interagency and zone 2. Divided over 20 workdays, that’s $5.30 cents per day. Compare either of those costs to the ~$4.80 per day cost using a 25 mpg car, and it’s easy to see that driving a fuel efficient car comes with a lower daily cost than public transit in my situation, even with the very low fares in Los Angeles County.

    So, for my particular situation, taking public transit costs slightly more than driving monetarily, and takes more time by a factor of 3.

    Joe, Ramon, do you still think that the only reason I drive to work is to justify my car ownership?

    Even those of you who have completely given up owning a car in los angeles have probably ridden in a friend’s car sometime within the past month. I love public transit and think MTA is doing its best to try and expand its service in a way that benefits the city, but we have a sprawling city. It is is ignorant to claim that car ownership doesn’t make sense for every situation.

    Oh, and one more thing: For those saying “why don’t you move”: My wife works much closer to our home than I do, at a job she loves that is unique to that location. Moving closer to my job so that I could take public transit / bike would significantly increase her commute, making the gas/money/time savings essentially cancel out between the two of us.

    Replacing my 25 mpg car with an electric car, however, would keep my commuting time low and would reduce my monetary cost even more (assuming the electric car would be available to me at a similar cost to my gas-powered car).

  • Methinks @DriverGalvan doth protest too much. Neither of us stated that you drive to work to justify your car ownership…

    Is the reason that you state your public transit/bike option costs more is because you’re looking at a highly-subsidized per-trip-direct-out-of-pocket-cost?
    How about factoring in:
    – parking (which you probably receive “free” if you’re like most employees)
    – the cost of owning your car (didn’t you say that you weren’t justifying that – why not include it in your calculations?)
    Those are the more easily quantifiable… there’s also a host of external costs: perhaps start with highway infrastructure, then maybe global warming, resource wars, air and water pollution… and then maybe quantify your share of the death and injuries caused by driving.

    I don’t thinking that you’re able to kick your personal car addiction tomorrow. It’s a systemic problem, and you’re just one person, so I don’t want to blame or villainize you personally… but I do think we as a society really need to shift our priorities, so that you’re not stuck in your car – without healthy viable options.

  • David Galvan

    Joe Linton said:
    “Methinks @DriverGalvan doth protest too much. Neither of us stated that you drive to work to justify your car ownership…”

    Ramonchu specifically said that “People can’t own cars and use them occasionally; once you’ve spent upwards of $20,000 on something, the incentive isn’t to let it sit in the garage and use it only occasionally, the incentive is to get your money’s worth and use it as much as possible.”

    The implication I took from that was that Ramon thinks that, once someone owns a car, they are motivated to drive it to work instead of taking public transportation. You then responded saying that Ramon had described me pretty well. The implication I took from that was that you were surmising that the reason I was driving to work instead of taking public transit was due to the incentive of “not letting the car sit in the garage’. I responded to you both, saying first that Ramon is incorrect (I spent long periods of time rarely driving my car because I used the bus to get to/from school, disproving his statement that “People can’t own cars and use them occasionally”, along with Brent’s statement that he does roughly the same thing now.). I then went into the specifics of my situation to explain that I had other reasons for deciding to drive in my commute (the fact that it takes much less time and costs roughly the same or less money as using public transit).

    I don’t know how else I could have interpreted your comment, and if that was a misinterpretation I sincerely apologize, but I don’t see what else you could have meant.

    If you’re saying I’m leaving out costs in my comparison, you’re right. I’m leaving out the sales taxes that go to pay for the transit service (so go ahead and increase the cost of the bus fares a bit if you like). Most of the road costs (most, not all, but most) are covered by the gasoline tax, which I did include in my estimates. Also, the buses use those same roads, so any road costs should be the same on both sides of the car/transit divide.

    My parking at my work is indeed free-to-me. But it’s not part of my out-of-pocket expenses.

    Again, including the total cost of car ownership would inappropriate in this kind of comparison. I am not comparing whether or not I should own a car and drive it, or sell my car and only use public transportation. I am deciding whether or not to drive the car I already own or take public transit and let my car sit in the garage during the weekdays, therefore cost of registration, oil-changes, etc does not come into play. This is the same decision that most people would be presented with, which is why I offer myself as an example. Presented with that situation, I made the best decision: my commute costs me less time and money by using the car for this particular situation.

    As for your last comment: I completely agree. We as a society do need to shift our priorities, and I think we as a population articulated that when we passed Measure R. But the infrastructure doesn’t show up overnight. Believe me, if there were a one-seat ride between a bus stop within 0.5 miles of my home and one within 0.5 miles of my destination, I would re-think my daily commute and probably use transit.

    But I stand by my cost-comparison because I think it explains why the majority of the people in this county will continue to drive their cars, despite the fact that they COULD (inconveniently) use public transit. And the time-savings difference is important as well. For a businessman, time is money, and a couple extra hours is very important. It’s also important if you are paying a per-hour cost for your children being in daycare, not to mention that you want to spend as little time away from them as possible.

    Public transit is NOT the best choice for every person in every situation.

  • As a deadly electric beast creeps onto Copenhagen streets (oh yeah, that’s the article we were discussing!) @Galvan stands behind his cost comparison and its nearsighted accounting… the globe warms, the air darkens, the seas sicken, and the kids in daycare look toward a scary future.

    Meanwhile @Ramon and Joe are off enjoying bicycling across town.

  • David Galvan

    Ah yes fear-mongering. Much easier than addressing any of the points I made.

    Don’t know why I bothered trying to have a detailed discussion with you. Should have taken the hint from your first comment that you were not interested in actually thinking about the issues involved. I asked legitimate questions backed up with real-life data, and you resort to rhetoric rather than attempt at an answer. Guess I’ll look elsewhere for people who live in reality.

  • Spokker

    “Meanwhile @Ramon and Joe are off enjoying bicycling across town.”

    Yeah, bicycling right into the ocean! If drivers render the planet uninhabitable your cycling days are also over. Your best option is to work with them as they are holding the gun to our collective heads.

  • Malena

    Its Amazing! some stuff like Gatwick Airport Parking should be added.

  • Malik Ashar Azeem

    Its Amazing! i like itCheap Gatwick Parking

  • jennacatlin4

    such positive measures should be taken to make the parking areas less congested. Secure Car Parking Luton

  • carla grace

    Secure car parking is always needed to people at reasonable range . A safe and and organised system is always appealing to everyone. meet and greet parking Gatwick also meet the security requirements of people. shun for it and get rid of hassle.

  • perry cole

    Such a creative Parameters has been settled to for organizing the parking area , and subsidies on electric cars are right . well ! car safety is more important and so hassle free secure car parking service is offered by cheapest gatwick parking at affordable levels. hit to it


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